Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How much prejudice is too much?

What about this issue don't Christians get?

I stand amazed at the tolerance for prejudice that still exists in 2008. Today I got an e-mail from a pastor friend of mine. After today, our relationship has changed. I can't just sit back and listen to people, especially those who call themselves Christians, make racial or gender prejudicial remarks and just nervously laugh, or quietly walk away. This is evil, plain and simple.

Edmund Burke once said, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

The e-mail I got contained some racial slurs. I don't want to repeat what they said because it is so horrible but the gist of what they said was, "life would be much better in America if we had a lot less black people." I was pretty horrified by the e-mail. I sat for a moment sort of stunned and kept scrolling back up to make sure it was really the person I thought who sent it to me. I kept saying, "this can't be...it can't be..." but it was.

I was so shocked you might as well have told me the person was...a stripper...a drug dealer...a member of the mafia. I mean, I was SHOCKED. But I guess I shouldn't be. Racial and gender prejudice is still not viewed as a sin by many in the church. People find all kinds of ways to try to justify their words and actions.

One time I was in a room full of Christians and we were talking about places to shop (cause I love shopping!) and someone said, "Oh, don't go to such and such a mall...it's horrible." And I said, "why?" and they said, "oh, it's too dark." And naive ol' little me, I thought she meant there wasn't enough lighting in the place and you couldn't see the merchandise.

When she explained what she meant by "dark" I got upset and said how offended I was by the comment. Instead of apologizing, she and others in the room tried to justify what was said by sharing about what they see as the stereotypical behavior of black people they know. But that didn't cut it with me. I had to get up and leave. Their comments made me sick.

Equal time is a blog about gender equality and I know right now I'm talking about race but the thing is I've noticed that there is much rationalization in the Christian world about both race and gender prejudice. The thing that scares me is that some of our young people are very laissez-faire about this. If you don't realize the seriousness of this just think about all the young people who are now calling each other nigga and cracka and thinking this is somehow cool. This is nothing but a slap in the face to people like Rosa Parks, and all of the people who went before these young people to guarantee that they would have a seat on the bus just like anybody else.

On gender issues I see some of our young ladies who are especially indifferent. Like the young people who think nothing of calling one another racial slurs for fun, so some of today's young women could care less what our foremothers went through for us and some even make light of it. Our foremothers fought a long hard battle just so we could vote. And many young women today could care less about voting. The other day I was on the blog of one young woman who shared that her husband "votes for the both of us" and I was absolutely shocked at the number of young women commenting on the blog who said they considered it wrong to vote differently from their husband, thereby "cancelling out his vote." So if they are not voting the same as their husband they abstain from voting. I just have to wonder if some of these women are also laying at the foot of their husband's bed, calling them Lord... (um, only half kidding there...)

Many of the women who went before us in ministry went through unbelievable challenges to give us the privilege of standing on platforms now, ministering the gospel. Some younger women today don't care about that. In fact they would even sit under the ministry of a man who believes women should not be ministering the gospel or holding leadership positions. There are some younger women in ministry today who wouldn't see anything wrong with voting for a man to be in leadership in their church, fellowship or denomination who doesn't believe in gender equality. They are in living in a sort of complacency or naivety at best to believe that this will not affect the decision making process in leading the organization in which they serve.

Recently a man who doesn't believe that women should pastor was being considered for a prominent position in the denomination in which I serve. (Our fellowship happens to 100% believe in and stand for the equality of women at the highest levels of leadership. It's one of our core values.) Well, this man's views on women are well known. However he pastors a very large church and has great leadership skills. Many people felt his views would not affect our fellowship in any negative way and that we would only benefit from his leadership skills, but I disagree. Even if he were to not stop anything currently going on in the way of opportunities for women, would he pursue further advancement of women? For it's not just a matter of allowing what is happening currently, but in making progress for women now, and for our daughters in the future. I guarantee, progress in this area would not have happened on his watch, had he been elected.

There's a story I was told about some parents who were trying to teach their kids this principle when it came to sin and questionable activities. The kids were asking to do some things the parents just weren't comfortable with and the kids responded, "well, it's not that bad...it's just a little of this...or a little of that..." and so to prove a point the parents went out unbeknownst to the kids and got some dog poop from the back yard. They made a pan of brownies and put just a tiny miniscule bit of poop in the brownie batter. When the brownies were done the parents called the kids to come to the kitchen and began to cut up the brownies and dish them out on plates. Before the kids could take a bite from their plates the Dad said, "Ok kids, just so you know, there is just a tiny bit of dog poop in these brownies from the backyard..."

The kids were totally grossed out and said, "Eeeewww!" and pushed the plates away. The brownies all ended up in the garbage, but not before the parents said, "what's wrong kids? It's just a little bit..."

Would you eat brownies that contained just a bit of poop? Would you buy a bottle of water if it said, "99 percent spring water...1% sewage"? Of course not. Any rational thinking person would not even entertain the thought.

So how much prejudice is too much? Any amount.

A truly Godly person with their head on straight will not even entertain the thought.

Friday, January 4, 2008

It's just that feeling you have...

Author Toni Morrison made a now famous controversial statement years ago, calling Bill Clinton, “our first black president.” She went on to say he is, “blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime."

It is clear that former president Clinton is very popular with blacks, and I recall watching him in an interview one time where he was asked why he thought that was. He said something about the fact that people know when you genuinely like them and they have the ability to sense sincerity in knowing that you are truly comfortable with them. Black people sense that Clinton really loves them and is comfortable with them- and they’re right!

Please don’t take the above illustration as an endorsement for the Clintons. This post isn’t about politics. I’m simply using it as a point of reference to make a case for something I really believe in and that is a person’s “sixth sense” if you will – or as the Bible calls it – discernment – of the sincerity of others. It’s just that “feeling you have”… and it’s so evident when it comes to prejudice.

There are times people can say whatever they want, but you know deep inside, despite whatever is coming out of their mouths, they don't see you as an equal. You know no matter what words are coming out of their lips - they have a problem with you serving in a leadership position. You know they secretly see you as one who should be submitting to orders, not giving them. I'm not talking about a conspiracy here or being paranoid. I am talking about true discernment with certain individuals. Anyone who faces issues of racial or gender prejudice knows exactly what I mean without explaining, but for those of you who aren’t in that category, allow me to enlighten you. Those of us who face prejudicial issues are so certain of what we feel, we would bet our bank accounts on it, because we’ve been through it so much. Though it's something felt in the spirit, it’s so tangible to us we can almost reach out and touch it.

I could give a million illustrations, but I’ll just choose one for today. Whenever we are interviewing a potential new staff member, one of the first things we ask for in the interview are their views on women in the ministry. We make it very clear that Larry and I are a true pastoral team and we lead the staff and the church together. We tell potential staffers, "if you do not hold the views we have on this issue, you are going to be very unhappy working here, so we need to settle this issue up front and spare both of us of any problems...” We are extremely up front with this and go into detail as far as how that works itself out in daily life, serving on staff here. We don’t want any misunderstandings. If a person holds an opposite view, that’s fine – we just don’t want them working for us realizing that while we don’t have to agree on everything, we do have to agree on basic core values -- especially one as important as this.

In the case of one staff member (I’ll call him Pastor Greg – not his real name) we had gone over this several times in multiple interviews, and he told us in no uncertain terms that he completely held the same view we do. However shortly into his tenure, I just had “that feeling” that not all was well. Over the months time, I knew in my heart that he secretly held another view but had not revealed it, probably because he needed a job. Yes, ministry is ministry but to those of us who do it full time it is also a paycheck. And he didn’t have another one, at least yet. It was something I’m sure he thought would not be an issue as long as he and his wife kept their views hidden, at least from us – or so they thought! (Mistake #1 – don’t ever think when you tell people things in the church that it won't eventually get back to your pastor! The Bible says that what is hidden will be brought to light...be sure your sins will find you out.)

Well, one day in the course of our work, Pastor Greg made some comments, though not about ministry but politics, that were very revealing as to how they felt on some gender issues. You know the Bible says that "out of the heart, the mouth speaks." You can try to hide your true thoughts however what you think eventually will seep out somehow. Our thoughts eventually become our words if we dwell on them enough. Though not referring to women pastors specifically, Pastor Greg made some negative statements toward women in the political world. I was very concerned about the slant of his comments and asked my husband to have a talk with him, figuring maybe he would confess his true thoughts easier to my husband than to me (since I felt he obviously had a problem with women I didn’t expect to get anywhere with him.)

My husband called him in and strongly confronted and questioned him. Larry said, "I realize your comments were about women in the secular world, however if you hold these same views regarding ministry this is an issue as it is completely against all that Deanna and I stand for, and the core values of our church." And again he said, “oh no pastor, I don't have a problem with this - I am completely in agreement with your views..." My husband seemed comfortable with his answers because Pastor Greg had so strongly answered him back declaring his complete unity with us on the issues. He was very emphatic with my husband that he was 100% in agreement with us. But it didn’t matter what was coming out of his mouth. I could sense in my spirit, he was not sincere.

My instincts told me – he needed a job, needed a paycheck, and would say whatever he needed to say to my husband to keep his job, at least until he could find another one – realizing that it wasn’t all that easy to keep a hidden view on things like this especially when he had to come into the office and face a woman as his boss everyday – me! In my heart, I believe that in his initial interview with us he said whatever he needed to say to get the job and then figured he’d sort all the rest out later and it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But it was. And being that I was not afraid to strongly lead – this posed a serious threat to him that he really didn’t consider he would have prior to coming on staff. I think he thought he could go around me, over me, or through me – but he soon found out it wasn’t all that easy when you have a co-pastor team that works so closely as Larry and I.

Well, ultimately Pastor Greg resigned and not a moment too soon. As soon as he did all kinds of hidden things came to light. A week after he left, one person in the church said to my husband and I (thinking we already knew), “you know, I’m surprised that Pastor Greg lasted here as long as he did, with his views on women in ministry and all that…” When the church member said that, I shot a look at my husband as if to say, “told ya!” and said to the church member, “oh really? What were the views that he shared with you?” And they went on to tell us that he revealed his true beliefs on the issue of women pastors one day in a small group Bible study and specifically addressed a problem he had with women being senior pastors. As he did his wife shot him a look and sharply said, “Greg!” as if to say, “you shouldn’t be telling these people this…” and then he said something to the effect that he had issues with women pastoring but he couldn’t’ really get into the subject. However everyone in the room knew he wasn’t in agreement with our view. Thankfully his poison did not spread to the rest of the church body.

There is something about prejudice that is not just heard or seen…it is FELT. Like other sins that people carry such as the spirit of anger, pride, or lust – so they can also carry the spirit of prejudice. Just as you can walk into a room and sense that “something is not quite right” so you can be listening to a person’s words as they say a bunch of things about women being called, anointed, used of God, etc. and know that they are either using semantics to dance around their core values on the subject – or they are just flat out lying through their teeth because they need something from you at the time, such as – a job, or a favor of some sort. I have sat in meetings with denominational officials over 20 years of time and I can sense which ones are spouting the politically correct thing to say in a meeting, and which ones are sincere. A woman in ministry has the ability to realize those who are part of the "good old boy" network and those who are sincerely appreciative of women working alongside (not behind) them. We can sense who celebrates us and who merely tolerates us. A woman can immediately sense when a man is working with her and viewing her as a colleague or just patronizing her.

Relationships are truly born of the spirit. Why do I have so many close friends of color? Why can I walk into a room of women from all backgrounds and nationalities as a guest speaker or pastor and have the majority of them at ease with me from the beginning feeling a ‘sister to sister’ connection? Yes, it’s the blood of Christ that unites us but I am convinced it is also the fact that people KNOW when you are sincere and you are “for real” in your belief of the equality of all people. How can Larry and I – two white people from Baltimore and Pittsburgh – pastor people from so many different countries who feel “right at home” with us from the first time we meet? Our church has people from about 20 different nations. I’m convinced – something in their spirit immediately tells them how much we genuinely like them. Actually, they know we really, really love them. There are many times I feel like an "honorary black" or "honorary Cuban" simply because I click with my sisters (and brothers) so well and love and enjoy them so much as well as learning about, experiencing and really understanding their particular cultures. :-) People sense...do we really want to not only love them, but seek to understand?

So to summarize today’s post I want to encourage those of you who, like me – know what it is to just “have that feeling” despite what’s coming out of people’s mouths – know that God gave you discernment for a reason. I sensed the disunity of Pastor Greg a long time before he resigned. God gave me that heads up for a reason – to keep a very watchful eye on the situation and warn my husband. I never trusted him, and there was a good reason for it. Use the gift of discernment God has given you!

Second, if you are a person in Pastor Greg’s shoes and you secretly harbor feelings of prejudice toward a person of another race of gender or you think you have ever so carefully hidden your bias against a person or group of people – think again. No matter what is coming out of your mouth, people will know what’s in your spirit. And if you wonder, “why don’t they click with me? I’ve never said anything…” realize YOU DON’T HAVE TO. Your spirit is talking loud and clear and letting them know where you stand. If people of color or women in leadership seem to have an issue with you, maybe you should check your spirit. You might be exuding something although you don’t say a word and if that is the case – only the Holy Spirit can do a cleansing work in your heart and life to bring you into right standing with God and others.

Allow the Lord to cleanse you of the sin of prejudice and fill your heart with a GENUINE acceptance of all people. As you do, you will find them coming closer to you rather than holding you suspiciously at arms length or keeping a watchful eye on you.

Rev. Deanna D. Shrodes, Equal Time Co-Founder